Kae Tempest has done little but collect plaudits and smash records over the past 10 years or so, be that musical (Mercury Prize nominations) or literary (Ted Hughes Award winner and Sunday Times best-seller). Their live performances are famously incendiary, yet tonight’s show still manages to exceed expectations as body-shaking beats are intertwined with poignant lyricism.
Beaming ear to ear is an understatement for Tempest’s glee upon taking the stage tonight at Leith Theatre. They start with some AOB: explaining the plan for the night, professing their love for the city, and introducing keyboardist/DJ Hinako Omori. Once we get started, they’re going to be too lost in the music to be chatting. Again, an understatement.
The main portion of the set is made up of latest album, The Line is a Curve, played front to back relatively faithfully. Priority Boredom immediately sets the scene with heavy beats and skittering lights, with Tempest’s delivery much closer to rap than spoken word. There are intense, almost aggressive moments like Smoking and Move, but also plenty of tender, beautiful ones during songs like These are the Days and Grace.
The album is a brilliant and challenging listen, but on stage Tempest radiates a lot of joy, bringing out the humour on songs like No Prizes or soulful Don’t You Ever. When this part of the show is done, Tempest addresses the audience in terms so poetic it feels like a freestyle, giving thanks and explaining how the album has helped them through particularly dark times. They wipe away a tear and aren’t the only ones with damp eyes.
Following this, there’s a selection of hits from the last few albums, starting with an amazing a cappella Hold Your Own, and then the tongue-twisting Europe is Lost and Circles that showcase Tempest’s vocal dexterity. Ketamine for Breakfast is played a bit differently from on the record, with the eponymous line and subsequent verse delivered with minimal backing, before the beats kick in later.
Staid spoken word this is not, as Omori provides appropriately apocalyptic beats and keys (and occasional vocals). During the breakdown at the end of Elixir, we’re verging on industrial and the room is literally shaking. The warmth and romance of the preceding Firesmoke has not prepared us for this.
People’s Faces closes the night on an expectedly emotional note, with Tempest’s sincere connection to the audience reaching its pinnacle. It’s difficult not to be moved by the outpouring of love and the night as a whole is a terrific reminder of the power of creativity to move people. Tempest as much as the audience certainly appreciates this.